Rich Preheim is a community blogger living in Elkhart, where he is a freelance writer and historian, ignores the mess in his office, roots for the Hoosier, listens to classic rock and still thinks he’ll play Major League Baseball.
To read more from Rich, visit his community blog
for The Elkhart Truth, Blue Eyes
Now that Elkhart has established a three-foot buffer for motorists to pass bicyclists, I want to emphasize what the new ordinance doesn’t cover:
Bicyclists going the wrong way on city streets.
The ordinance helps protect bicyclists by requiring automobile drivers to give them ample room. That’s an important development since many residents bike for fun and exercise because of its environmental benefits and because it may be their only mode of transportation. The added safety can help encourage others to hop on two wheels instead of four.
As they do, bicyclists are required to adhere to the same statutes as motorists, including riding on the same side of the street as cars and trucks. Yet too many bicyclists thumb their noses at the law and ride facing traffic rather than with it.
As a defensive strategy, it’s sort of understandable. It’s like pedestrians are supposed to walk facing traffic. Being rear-ended is bicyclists’ greatest fear – and who can blame them? They don’t see the collision coming, can’t prepare themselves for it, and the possibilities of serious injury or death for the rider is higher than any other type of bicycle-automobile accident. The League of American Bicyclists earlier this year reported that 40 percent of all bicyclist fatalities were the result of being rear-ended.
But while the death rate is high, the actual number of rear-end accidents is proportionally much lower: about one in four, according to the LAB. The greatest number of bicycle-automobile accidents occur at intersections.
I don’t want to sound dismissive of being rear-ended. As someone who has gone over the front of my bicycle’s handlebars, albeit without any help other than my own lack of physical ability, I find the thought of flying ahead of my Schwinn thanks to a larger, faster vehicle behind me to be absolutely terrifying.
But I’ve also been in cars that have encountered wrong-way bicyclists, which is also plenty scary. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were at a stoplight and came face to face with a bicyclist who had just turned left at the corner and into the oncoming traffic lane. Fortunately, the light was red, and so my wife and I weren’t moving and thus avoided a collision.
Earlier this summer, while I was driving on Second Street, which is a one-way going north, traffic came to a complete stop because a couple of bicyclists came out of the courthouse parking lot and went south.
I’ve unfortunately had to force bicyclists off the road because while they were coming at me on my right, cars were coming my direction on the left. There are two options in these situations: I can veer left and if the other driver doesn’t react, risk side-swiping the oncoming vehicle or, worse, crashing head on. Or I can stay where I am and make the bicyclist, who is where he shouldn’t be and is traveling at a much slower speed, to move, which usually means driving off the road.
I don’t like putting bicyclists in danger, but if we collide, I figure it’s because they hit me. They chose to drive the wrong way, headlong into traffic. So I will inevitably not swerve because I think that provides everyone the greatest odds of getting by unscathed.
Maybe that’s why riding a bicycle facing traffic is illegal. And that’s the bottom line. It’s the law, and not even an obscure one. It should have been learned by everyone on a bicycle. From the adults who taught them as kids to stay upright on two wheels. Or in a bicycle safety course. Maybe in drivers ed. It’s even in the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicle’s drivers manual.
Which raises the possibility that bicyclists may simply be ignoring the law. If it’s easier to go south on north-bound Second Street rather than go a block over to south-bound Third Street, why not? Too many bicyclists already think that stopping at a red light or not riding on the sidewalk are just suggestions.
So here’s my suggestion to Elkhart’s irresponsible bicyclists: While those people driving cars and trucks need remember that they’re sharing local streets and roads with you, you’re also sharing them with us. Your health may very well depend on it.
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